Weather Wise Kids: How do hurricanes start?

Great question and also very timely since hurricane season just started on June 1st.

We call it “hurricane season” but the term hurricane is only used for the large storms that for over the Atlantic ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The fancy scientific term we meteorologists use is “tropical cyclone.”  Other names are given to these storms depending where in the world they form. For example storms that form in the western pacific ocean are called typhoons.

But regardless of the name, each of these storms needs the same ingredients to form.

Tropical cyclones are like engines, but instead of fuel they need warm, moist air to survive. The first ingredient for tropical cyclone formation is warm ocean water. The ocean temperature needs to be at least 80 degrees and not just at the surface but about 165 feet down!

The second ingredient for a tropical cyclone is wind. Hurricanes that form in the Atlantic ocean are fueled from a wind off the coast of Africa. As the wind travels west over the ocean surface, water evaporates (turns into water vapor) and rises. As it rises, the water vapor cools, and condenses and large cumulonimbus clouds form.

The storm will take on different names at it continues to develop and strengthen. First it will become a tropical disturbance, then a tropical depression, a tropical  storm, and as soon as the winds reach 74 mph, the storm is officially a hurricane.


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